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Prison Controversies And A Cabinet Reshuffle: These Are The Six Biggest Stories In Malta Over The Past Week

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From the mysterious death of a young prisoner raising eyebrows at Malta’s correctional facility to a historic Cabinet reshuffle bringing in some fresh faces, this past week has left quite the impact on Malta’s political and artistic scenes.

Having said that, here are six of Malta’s biggest stories of the past week.

1. A 25-year-old prisoner mysteriously passed away in his sleep

Pakistani prisoner Ihtisham Ihtisham passed away in his sleep at the Corradino Correctional Facility on 19th November – despite being in good health.

The 25-year-old was set to be released on Christmas Day after being sentenced to six months imprisonment for being in possession of a forged document. The 25-year-old had last spoke to his brother the day before his death, and it is said that he was in good spirits about leaving prison.

“At this stage, the family are under shock and would like to express their utmost disappointment at the correctional facility for depriving them of their basic right to be informed about the medical state of their family member,” Jacques Grima, Ihtisham’s lawyer told Lovin Malta.

“It is unacceptable that in a country which upholds the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights, we allow a human life to be lost with such blatant disregard to the person’s life.”

Despite the suspicious circumstances of Ihtisham’s death, no foul play is suspected. A magisterial inquiry is currently underway to determine the cause of his death, as officials await results from an autopsy on the body.

2. A Burmarrad priest got jail time for sexually abusing a minor

Donald Bellizzi, a Franciscan priest, was sentenced to three years in prison for sexually abusing a young boy in his care.

The priest would invite young aspiring priests to retreats at the Franciscan convent in Burmarrad. During one of these retreats, Bellizzi forced a 13-year-old to masturbate him. Bellizzi was well-acquainted with the victim’s family, even visiting their house a number of times after the act took place.

The Conventual Franciscans Order in Rome asked Pope Francis to dismiss the priest. Due to the fact that he forms part of a specific religious order, Bellizzi can only be deprived of his ecclesiastical status on the order of the Conventual Franciscans Order.

3. Robert Abela reshuffled Malta’s Cabinet

After weeks of expectation and speculation, Prime Minister Robert Abela reshuffled his Cabinet, making it the largest and most female-represented Cabinet in the country’s history.

Newly-elected MP Miriam Dalli has been made Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development. Julia Farrugia Portelli has been moved from Tourism to Inclusion and Quality of Life. Meanwhile, Justyne Caruana has been made Minister for Education instead of Owen Bonnici.

Bonnici took on one of the three new ministries introduced in this re-shuffle, the Ministry for Research, Innovation, and the Co-ordination of Malta’s Post-COVID-19 Strategy.

As expected, newly co-opted MP Clyde Caruana has been made Finance Minister, replacing Edward Scicluna who has moved on after seven years in charge to become Central Bank Governor.

On the other hand, Silvio Parnis was removed from his role as parliamentary secretary for the elderly and active ageing, after being highly criticised for his response to COVID-19.

4. Literary giant Oliver Friggieri passed away

Oliver Friggieri, one of Malta’s most celebrated novelists and poets, passed away at the age of 73 last Saturday.

Friggieri’s key literary works include the 1986 novel Fil-Parlament Ma Jikbrux Fjuri. Apart from being an acclaimed writer, Friggieri also co-founded children’s magazine Is-Sagħtar and the local publishing house Klabb Kotba Maltin.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, Opposition Leader Bernard Grech, and Health Minister Chris Fearne, amongst others, took to Facebook to pay tribute to the writer. Friggieri will be granted a state-organised funeral for his extraordinary contribution to the country.

5. Maria Efimova’s husband got arrested in Cyprus

Former Pilatus Bank employee Maria Efimova said her husband was arrested over ‘ridiculous’ charges by Cyprus related to alleged misappropriation funds several years ago.

Efimova had famously tipped off Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia that Michelle Muscat, the wife of then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, was allegedly the owner of the mysterious Panamanian company Egrant.

A magisterial inquiry had found no evidence that Egrant belonged to the Muscats and recommended that Efimova be charged with perjury over her testimony to the magistrate. Despite this, Efimova warned that the charges were part of a plot to discredit her. The case was flagged by the Council of Europe and the Organised Crime & Corruption Reporting Project as abuse against a person who blew the whistle on high-level corruption in Malta.

6. A Labour archives page mistook Freddie Mercury for Robert Abela

In a hilarious mishap, Labour archives page Mill-Arkivji tal-Partit Laburista mistook Freddie Mercury for Prime Minister Robert Abela in a picture of Mercury at a table with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.

The post garnered over 100 likes before someone realised that that was, in fact, one of the most famous musicians in modern history, and removed it from their page… but not before people noticed.

Did we miss out on any big stories? Let us know in the comment section

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